I laid my sleeping newborn down and left the room to a quiet house. I descended the stairs slowly, dreading what I might find. What was my toddler doing that had him so quiet?
As I turned the corner, I stopped, wishing I could go right back up the stairs and leave this for someone else to deal with.
He crouched down on the floor, attempting to wipe up a brown mess that was smeared all over the floor, his little potty, and in various places in the bathroom where he’d attempted to dump the potty himself.
I have to admit that potty training has been my least favorite task as a mom. There’s something about disasters that end with poop in places it should never be that leaves me wishing I could outsource this parenting task.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Whether you’ve started potty training and have found yourself stuck with no answers or you’re gearing up for the task ahead, I have a few things I’ve learned about what you shouldn’t do. I hope it will give you a better idea of how you want to handle potty training.
10 Potty Training Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make
Mistake #1: Not Coming Prepared
The time to learn about potty training is long before you ever start. Read up on different methods, watch videos, and talk to every mom at your toddler’s daycare. The wrong time to learn about potty training is in the middle of potty training when you realize you don’t know how to handle the next step.
When I started potty training my son, I read Making the “Terrible” Twos Terrific* by John Rosemond, which devotes a few chapters to potty training, and was ready to go. At one point my son had naked potty training down, but every time I put pants on him, he forgot how to use the potty. Nowhere in this book or in his other book, Toliet Training Without Tantrums, does Rosemond explain how to move from naked to dressed.
I later read Oh Crap Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki, which outlines a similar process as Rosemond’s in detailed steps. Explaining how to move through each stage. Having all of this information before I started would have made things a lot less confusing for me and my son.
The Bottom Line: Learn everything about potty training before you start.
Mistake #2: Learning From Only One Person
There are tons of different views on potty training. Don’t choose one without knowing them all. Here are a few to get you started.
Popular Potty Training Methods
- The Naked and Gradual Method (John Rosemond, Jamie Glowacki)
- Starts early (18-24 months)
- Starts with naked potty training
- Parent-initiated training (no signs of readiness), but child-led
- Parent makes potty training no big deal
- No songs, books, rewards, or celebrations
- No diapers or pull-ups
- The Quick Fix Method (Potty Training in 3 Days: The Step-by-Step Plan for a Clean Break from Dirty Diapers by Brandi Brucks and other similar books)
- Potty training is completed quickly
- Starts naked and pushes child through stages each day
- Parent-initiated, but watches for signs of readiness
- The parent constantly asks “do you need to use the potty?” and reinforces “pee-pee goes in the potty”
- No diapers or pull-ups
- The Laid Back Method (Janet Lansbury, Lisa Sunbury, & Dr. Steve Hodges)
- Child-initiated training
- Emphasizes readiness
- Diapers until the child is not having accidents
- No timeline
- Requires parents to place no interest or agenda around potty training
- Suggests “no training” that children will use the potty in their own time
Read each book or article and decide which method you will use. Don’t read one book (like I did) and blindly follow one person’s advice. Learn about every method you can. Gather every bit of information before you attempt to guide your child through this transition.
The Bottom Line: Gather all of the information you can and make an informed decision about which method you’ll use before you start.
Mistake #3: Buying All the Things
Like most things with kids, there are items you can buy for potty training. And a lot are pushed as must-haves.
When I started potty training my son, I bought a little potty, a step-up seat, a toilet seat cover, a travel toilet seat, a car seat cover, timers, and a travel potty. Oh, and the wrong kind of underwear (too tight). Most of this stuff has been sitting in a closet or in our garage for a long time.
The Bottom Line: You don’t need a ton of products for your child to learn to use the potty.
Mistake #4: Starting During a Transition
At 7 months pregnant, I decided to potty train my 19-month-old. Based on what I’d read, it would take no more than a month to complete. It’d be the perfect timing. My son would be potty trained before I had a newborn to care for. Well, as I’m sure you can guess by now, I was wrong.
For one, kids are more perceptive than we realize. My son knew something was changing. On top of that, he’d just started daycare for the first time. And I was back to work full-time. Those were a lot of transitions that he was facing all at the same time. And I added potty training to the mix.
I’m sure you can guess that that attempt was a disaster.
A few months later, I tried to potty train him again. Right before we put our house up for sale and moved. 🙈🙉🙊 Another unsuccessful attempt.
It ended up taking me over a year just to daytime potty train him. If I’d started after all of the transitions, I’m convinced it may have taken a few months of consistency at most.
Are you pregnant? Moving? Going back to work? Is your childcare situation changing? If you answered yes to any of these questions, now is not the time to potty train. (Unless you just found out you’re pregnant.)
I know it’s hard because you really don’t want two kids in diapers. And something is always changing. But, trust me, it isn’t the time.
The Bottom Line: Wait until a low-stress season of life to start potty training.
Mistake #5: Letting Your Anxiety Reign
If you are anxious about potty training, your child will be anxious about potty training. This is a problem that two of the three methods I shared above note. Your anxiety is the enemy of potty training.
Anxiety can cause responses in your child that hinder potty training. They can become resistant to potty training (read more about that in “Toliet Troubles“). There are even cases where potty training has caused children to hold their BMs, creating serious medical problems (read more in “A Doctor Responds: Don’t Potty Train Your Baby“).
You can fend off anxiety by realizing that your child will learn eventually and by learning more about potty training methods. I found Janet Lansbury’s podcasts about potty training to be helpful in easing my anxiety about potty training.
The Bottom Line: Do everything you can to ease your anxiety about potty training.
Mistake #6: Starting Too Early (or too late)
Worrying about the timing can be a catalyst to potty training disasters. If you start too young, your child can’t perform many of the tasks necessary to make potty training successful – like telling you he needs to go, pulling his pants up and down, or not dumping his fecal matter all over the floor while you’re putting the baby to sleep.
On the other hand, some suggest that starting too late can make children more resistant and less self-reliant.
Personally, I think the worst time to start is when you feel anxious about a time. If you rush to potty train because you hear the best time is 18 months, 36 months, or before your child has to wear diapers to kindergarten, you’re going to be more anxious.
The Bottom Line: Don’t put a time stamp on potty training.
Mistake #7: Setting An End Date
Similar to the last mistake, don’t set a specific end date. This puts extra pressure on you and your child. And of course, this extra pressure causes anxiety around the topic. The closer you get to that date, the more frustrated you will feel if your child isn’t there.
Instead, let your child take the reigns. He or she is potty training, not you. The more you push the issue, the more resistant your child will become.
If you expect and accept that it will take time for your child to master this new skill, it can go a long way towards helping your child to ‘go with the flow,’ so to speak.Lisa Sunbury
From my experience, the more I pushed my son, the more stressed I became and the more resistant he was. Any time there was any negativity or pressure around the topic, accidents increased.
The Bottom Line: Don’t set a date that your child must be potty trained by.
Mistake #8: Being Pushy About Potty Training
Once all of the transitions had calmed down, I decided there was no excuse anymore. It was time for my son to be potty trained. He knew how to do it. He just didn’t want to. So I pushed.
You’ll never guess what I got in response.
Not only were there more accidents, but he started holding his poop until he had a pull-up on at naptime. He would then remove his pull-up. Who wants to wear a pull-up with poop in it? And get poop all over his room while he changed his pants and tried to figure out what to do with the dirty pull-up. I’d come into poop all over the floor, his toys, and in various other places that poop should never be.
The Bottom Line: Don’t push the issue. If you get resistance, back off and wait until your child is ready to try again.
Mistake #9: Writing Off Certain Methods
Parenting can be controversial. Potty training is no different. There’s never just one right method.
Most of the methods I listed above are against reward charts. However, When I talked to my son’s pediatrician, that was what she recommended. Since we’d tried everything else at that point, I figured why not.
In the end, that was what worked for my son. After all of the negativity, it brought some positivity around the topic. It only took about a week of reward stickers before he was intrinsically motivated to do things on his own. (This is the reward chart I used.)
The Bottom Line: Don’t write off certain methods as bad. It just might be the method that works for your child.
Mistake #10: Thinking Someone Else Knows Your Child Better Than You
My son has always been a fast learner and a slow implementer. He took his first steps at 10 months and then refused to try walking again until he suddenly started walking perfectly at 13 months. He’s done the same thing with every new skill – learns it quickly and then won’t try again until he’s confident he’s mastered it internally.
In the end, I tried every method of potty training and he was always going to do it in his own time. If I’d simply given him the skills and then trusted him to work it out in his own time, I’m confident he would have.
My mistake was following advice that said you have to push the issue with kids. That it’s not about readiness. How much more confident would my son be in his own skills if I’d let him take the lead?
There are tons of potty training books, articles, and videos out there. Not to mention all of the unsolicited advice you’ll get. But remember that these people don’t know your child. You do.
I don’t care if someone has completed a case study on hundreds of different children. Guess what? Their advice is based on the average response. Your kid may not be average. Mine isn’t.
The Bottom Line: Trust what you know about your child and tailor potty training to them.
So the next time you think about potty training, I hope you’ll remember these mistakes. If nothing else, remember that potty training with a newborn could bring on a lot of poop disasters. Save it for a low-stress time, let your child initiate, and learn everything you possibly can before approaching the potty training years.
Grab your free printable of these potty training mistakes when you join the Librarian Mom Community where you’ll get regular tips to help you through motherhood. Use the printable as a quick reminder of these potty training mistakes to help make potty training successful.